China expects smart cars with partially or fully autonomous functions to account for 50 percent of new vehicles sold in the country by 2020－one of the most ambitious plans worldwide to push forward self-driving technologies.
The blueprint, released by the National Development and Reform Commission on Jan 5, is part of the country’s efforts to grow into a global power in smart car development and production by 2035.
In order to perfect the legal system for self-driving technologies, the government will speed up the drafting of regulations for public road tests of autonomous driving and revise the current road safety regulations “when conditions are mature”, according to the plan.
The commission also expects China to basically finish a framework of smart car standards－ranging from technological innovation and infrastructure to legislation, production supervision and information safety－by 2020.
“Developing such cars is of great significance, which would create new economic growth points, alleviate traffic-related problems and enhance China’s competitive edge,” said the commission.
Private capital is invited to join the efforts, said the commission. It also suggests favorable tax and other financial policies for small and medium-sized companies and startups in smart cars.
The commission also encourages international cooperation to introduce advanced technologies, and it calls for Chinese companies to expand their global presence through mergers and joint ventures.
A number of Chinese and foreign companies see China as one of the most attractive markets for self-driving technologies and have begun campaigns.
General Motors Co has demonstrated a vehicle-to-infrastructure communication application on public roads based on a standard it developed with Tsinghua University and China’s Changan Automobile.
Baidu Inc’s self-driving program, Apollo, has attracted a large number of Chinese and international partners, including Ford Motor Co and Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz.
Chinese companies are also teaming up to develop smart cars. A total of 21 Chinese companies are planning a 1 billion yuan ($154 million) joint venture that will specialize in research and development of such cars. Among investors are FAW Group Corp, Dongfeng Motor Corp, China Mobile, China Unicom and ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing’s parent company, Beijing Xiaoju Technology, according to Shanghai Baolong Automotive Corp, also a potential investor, in its filing with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in late December.
Yale Zhang, managing director of the Shanghai-based consulting company Automotive Foresight, said China is likely to realize its goal of gaining a head start in smart cars based on a combination of factors.
“For example, in the past two years we have seen more professionals in artificial intelligence and other cutting technologies. The government is placing a lot of emphasis on it, and Chinese people are open to such new technologies, so it is likely for China to stand out.”
China’s first road section for testing autonomous vehicles will be launched in Yizhuang, a southern suburb of Beijing, the municipality’s Commission of Transportation said. The capital city released the country’s first guideline on road tests of autonomous vehicles last month.